The 2000s saw a real resurgence in made-for-television biopics on celebrities and today’s film is one of the earliest from that period. The 2000 miniseries on Audrey Hepburn received flack both when it came out and to this day. As I stated in my review of James Dean and last week’s Bogie, no one short of the actor themselves will ever satisfy audiences. With that being said I didn’t hate Jennifer Love-Hewitt as Audrey Hepburn. No she doesn’t look like the star and lacks the charm of Hepburn herself but what did you expect? Hewitt nails the voice and gives the role her all which is all anyone should ask for. My bigger issues with this biopic laid with the storyline that only focused on half of the star’s life and like the aforementioned James Dean focused on “daddy issues” as the reason for Hepburn’s issues in life.
The Audrey Hepburn Story details the life of acclaimed actress Audrey Hepburn (Jennifer Love-Hewitt) from her impoverished life during WWII to her rise as an iconic celebrity. Despite her fame Hepburn battles with trying to find her father as well as dreaming of being a mother which complicates her personal relationships.
The film starts off with the filming of Breakfast at Tiffany’s complete with “Moon River” playing and Hewitt re-enacting the famous scene of standing outside Tiffany’s. When an episode of Gossip Girl does the same thing it really just becomes irksome. From there the film precedes to show flashbacks of Hepburn’s life (at one point she’s played by a young Emmy Rossum who does a good job). The problem is these flashbacks are preceded with scenes of Hewitt staring into the space and the audience being told to feel that in spite of all Hepburn’s success she was lonely and felt a piece missing. What is that piece you ask? Yep, her father. I don’t understand why these biopics have to say that “for such and such reason this actor/actress was the way they were.” I could understand it for someone like Marilyn Monroe who publicly stated her not knowing her father was a source of sadness in her life but these biopics so far equate the stars greatness and even acting ability with the fact they were abandoned by their fathers!
And in the case of The Audrey Hepburn Story the film goes back and forth on whether Audrey’s father Joseph (Keir Dullea) is supposed to be sympathetic or not. In a flashback we see him cavorting with a woman and being handed Nazi literature. If you do any research supposedly Hepburn’s mother found him sleeping with the nanny and kicked him out and yes he was a Nazi sympathizer. The film removes any mention of Joseph’s infidelity and makes the mother look villainous for preventing his relationship with Audrey because he’s a freaking Nazi sympathizer! To show a young Audrey struggling to survive, witnessing murders, etc during WWII and then saying her father was misunderstood is a mixed message to put it lightly. And regardless it didn’t lead to any improvements in Hepburn’s acting. Other deletions to the script including removing Hepburn’s half-brothers and making Audrey an only child. By removing the brothers the script puts Hepburn’s mother Ella (Frances Fisher) into the position of being so devoted to her daughter because she’s her only child!
The first hour of the film really zeroes in on Hepburn’s early career including her roles on Broadway and her early relationship with James Hanson (Peter Giles). I did like this as we see Hepburn come into her own and struggle to decide if she wants to be an actress or a dancer. I’ve read a few Hepburn biographies a long time ago and forgot that Hepburn’s original dream was to be a prima ballerina. In the movie Hepburn refuses to be anything else and begrudgingly enters acting although, much like James Dean did, we have early friends who are trotted out only to disappear with nary a mention. Throughout this hour though there are far too many “dream” sequences of Hewitt blandly staring into space imagining dancing with her father and other things. It does a disservice to Hewitt’s acting which is rather good for a film like this.
I said it before and I’ll say it again, I thought Jennifer Love-Hewitt did a good job here. No she doesn’t look the part and, pardon me for saying this, but Hepburn was rather flat-chested and this film tries its hardest to cover up Hewitt’s bosom. Where Hewitt excels is getting that distinctive Hepburn voice down pat. She has the elocution, the cadence, the enunciation of Hepburn and I loved hearing her talk. There are moments where the accent disappears for a bit but it’s minor and doesn’t happen often. Hewitt has a sweet and personable demeanor and makes you like her throughout (and I’ve read nothing but good things about Hewitt as a person so I’m assuming she’s taken a bit of Audrey with her). I think what sets this apart is its obvious Hewitt has watched Hepburn’s films and truly loves her as she’s listed as an executive producer on the film and according to sources pushed to have this made. Not that she doesn’t try to push her side projects she did at the time into the film like singing (remember that). Hewitt sings two songs including “Moon River” and while Hewitt has a sweet voice it’s obvious these scenes are nothing more than showcasing the fact she can sing and should have an album out (which she eventually did if memory serves). Also, and this is a minor quibble, but it’s apparent that Hewitt’s hair is simply pinned up to make it look short…we couldn’t give her a decent wig or something?
The second hour of the film is a rapid-fire montage of Hepburn’s famous roles. We see a brief segment devoted to Roman Holiday complete with a Gregory Peck who sounds dubbed; seriously the guy sounded dubbed (apologies if he wasn’t but he sounded like it) and then move to Sabrina. The filming of Sabrina gets the second longest bit of screen time but that’s not saying much. The first hour is so confined to Hepburn’s early life that it looks like the director suddenly realized he had to feature the big movies. We breeze so quickly through the latter films there’s no time to get comfortable with any of them before we move to another one. It is fun to see the Givenchy dresses from Sabrina shown in color. In fact watching Sabrina (which the review should be up this week) inspired me to watch this movie so what could go wrong! Oh that’s right, you take my favorite Audrey Hepburn movie and cast the worst versions of Humphrey Bogart and William freaking Holden!
Okay, I’m going to try to restrain myself in this section. To start, the actor playing Humphrey Bogart only has one scene so I won’t fault him for looking nothing like Bogart (I’m sorry but the actor is about 30 pounds heavier than Bogie) and having the vocal range of a New York wise guy. Then we introduce Bill Holden, a man who Hepburn wanted to marry but didn’t because he couldn’t have children. You all should know I’d sell my soul to go back in time to snag Bill Holden and while I mentioned that nothing short of the actor themselves would please fans….I’m going to complain like a typical fan! YOU CANNOT HAVE GABRIEL MACHT PLAYING BILL FREAKING HOLDEN! Your telling me that of all the people in the world the dude who played The Spirit was your idea of Bill Holden! Breathe, whew. To be fair, Holden only has like three scenes in the movie and for such an important relationship in Hepburn’s life it gets ten minutes of screen time all together (which is ridiculous)…..the guy from that USA show that I don’t watch….seriously!
I’m moving as quickly as this film does, see what I mean about pacing in the second hour? The third act culminates with Audrey’s marriage to Mel Ferrer (played by Eric McCormack…from Will and Grace) and finishing up filming Breakfast at Tiffany’s. McCormack is good as Mel Ferrer, then again I shouldn’t compare since I’ve never seen Mel Ferrer act. Their relationship is sweet and Hepburn’s dreams supposedly come true as she has her children and a happy marriage.
While The Audrey Hepburn Story is a better adaptation with likeable characters and a story that flows for the first hour, it too focuses on being a “dramatization” much like James Dean was. The film doesn’t rely on any source material short of “published accounts,” whatever those may be. Thankfully the story doesn’t fall into the lurid or the scandalous but boy does it try to be. The tagline of the film that you’ll see on the above poster is “Her public life hid a private tragedy.” Throughout the two-hour runtime I couldn’t find out what that tragedy was specifically. Was it surviving WWII and seeing horrors committed? Was it trying to find her father (who was a Nazi sympathizer but hey let’s gloss over that fact)? Or was it losing her baby towards the end? The creators want to make Hepburn’s life a tragedy when it wasn’t. Hepburn did suffer horribly during the war but persevered. She tried to reconnect with her father and did although their relationship was always strained and while she did miscarry she eventually had two beautiful sons. So what tragedy was hidden? All the bad things in her life have concrete resolutions.
If this biopic is anything to go off of Audrey Hepburn lived the life she played in her movies! She suffers early hardship but triumphs to become a female Jesus Christ. Seriously, this film makes Audrey Hepburn saint-like. Nothing bad happens to her because she leaves relationships or movies before anything truly does. I have no doubt that Audrey Hepburn was a good person but this biopic makes it seem like she was amazing and so was everyone else around her simply because they knew her. Cue Wicked’s “For Good” as musical accompaniment while reading this review! I will say this is probably my favorite biopic so far if only because Hewitt is so sweet and the story doesn’t devolve into gossip but the emphasis on the father and the need to relate every story of Hepburn’s to “the war” is a little much. The same with making Audrey Hepburn a literal saint. I do like that this film actually ends with footage of the real Hepburn, again paying tribute to the woman in question unlike other films we’ve seen.
NOTE: Golden Age on the Silver Screen will be going on hiatus throughout October due to Halloween making next week’s review the final one for the next month. If you haven actor/actress that you know has a biopic you’d like to see send in your suggestions, I’ll try my hardest to get it in. Also, I’m looking into expanding this further and would like to know if you’d enjoy reviews of biopics that aren’t necessarily bad (The Aviator comes to mind and a few others). Do you enjoy the made-for-TV/generally bad reviews or do you want biopics in general? Till next week!
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.